ITINERARY DETAILS: 8N/ 9D BEST OF BHUTAN TOUR
Day 1: Arrival at Bagdogra – Transfer to Thimphu
On arrival, guests will be received at the Bagdogra airport by our representative who will be your tour guide and companion for the whole duration of your tour in Bhutan.
You will be taken to your hotel in Phuentsholing. The journey will be a 4hrs drive. Once you reach Phuentsholing the assigned guide will take you through the immigration. After the immigration process the group will be taken to the hotel for the night.
Overnight in Phuentsholing
Day 2: Phuentsholing – Thimphu
Post breakfast, visit the Immigration office to process your permit and then drive to Thimphu. Depending on the weather conditions the 1st quarter of the drive may be through heavy fog. There are a few check points along the way where you’ll have to register your permits and driving license. The road is wide and smooth and scenic as you climb up switchback roads meandering along the mountain slopes.
Once in Thimphu, check-in at your hotel and rest. After a while you can go visit Tashichho Dzong: The Tashichho Dzong is a Buddhist monastery cum fortress at the northern edge of Thimpu the capital city of Bhutan. It was erected in 1641 and was subsequently rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. The Dzong has been seat of the Royal government since 1952 and presently houses the Throne room and the Kings secretariat. The Tashichho dzong is also home to several ministries of the Bhutanese government, and the Central Monk Body which is the apex organization of the country’s main spiritual order. The monument welcomes visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu festival which is held in autumn each year.
You can take a walk around town later in the evening.
Overnight at a hotelin Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu sightseeing
Post breakfast go to witness the festival at Tashichhoe Dzong
Thimphu Tsechu (Festival) held at the courtyard of Tashichhoedzong is a collection of sacred dances that are performed which are dedicated to the chief protective deity of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo. Legend has it, that the deity Pelden Lhamo appeared before Kuenga Gyeltshen (chief abbot of Bhutan) and performed the dances while he was in meditation. Based on these dances, Kuenga Gyaltshen initiated the Dromchoe. These religious dances are interspersed with folk songs and clowning. The festival is a magnificent cacophony of sound and colour and a photographer’s delight.
You can also visit the interior of Tashichhoe Dzong, a fortress of the glorious religion. It was built in 1641 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and was reconstructed into present structure by the late King, His majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the year 1962-1969. It houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the office of the king, and the central monk body.
Have lunch in town and visit the following
Kuensel phodrang The Kuensel Phodrang or the Buddha point is the world‟s largest sitting Buddha statue, the statue is 167 feet high. The statue is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city of Timphu, it can be accessed by road and is about 15 minutes away from the city‟s center. The word Kuensel means everything is clear and from this place you will sure enjoy a great view of the Thimphu Valley on both sides. The statute will house a temple inside it, the statue and its adjoining car park and recreational center are currently under construction and is expected to be ready by December 2012. The statue is constructed out of bronze and is studded with many semi-precious stones. Since they are no factories in country that can make such a large bronze cast structure, statute is being manufactured in China and the pieces are brought to Bhutan and are assembled here. On the drive to the statue the steep winding hill road offers an unparalleled view of the city of Thimphu and is an excellent place to capture a view of the city especially after dark. A journalist once described the view as “seeing an osasis of light in the desert of darkness “as the city light of Thimphu shine very bright in an otherwise dark Thimphu valley.
Motithang Takin preserve: The Motithang Takin Preserve also known as the Thimphu Zoo by many is a small natural preserve for the Takin Bhutan‟s national animal. It was originally a mini zoo, but it was converted in a preserve later on as the Takin. The mini zoo contained a small number of Takin but the King of Bhutan later decreed that it was improper for a Buddhist nation to keep an animal in captivity. The animals were set free and the zoo was shut down, but for some reason the Takin refused to leave the area for the forests nearby. Instead the animals were frequesntly found roaming around the streets of the capital city in search for food. As a result the government decided to demarcate an 8 acre fenced location as the Motithang Takin Preserve. The preserve is a forested preserve that mimics the Takin‟s natural habitat, in addition to the Takin there are a few musk deer and barking deer that live inside the preserve. There are plans to expand the preserves collection to include other rarely seen animals that live in Bhutan, currently the preserve plans to add the Red Panda and the Himalayan Serow to the preserve.
Folk Heritage Museum: The folk heritage museum was open to the general public in 2001 upon completion. It treasures troves of culture and rich Bhutanese heritage provide rich insights into the Bhutanese ethos. Try to schedule your visit during the morning hours since the museum is less crowded at that time and there is plenty of sunlight to go around. The folk heritage museum is housed in a replica traditional Bhutanese house learn first-hand about Bhutan‟s rich cultural traditions, its deeply rooted heritage which spans thousands of years and the Bhutanese way of life. The tour of this almost living museum will also give you a glimpse onto how many rural folk of the country live today following the ancient Bhutanese ways.
Memorial Chorten: Referred to as the Memorial Chorten, the actual name is Gongzo Chorten or Gyaldren Chorten. The Stupa is a chief landmark in the Capital city and is also a most sacred place of worship for the locals. The idea of the stupa was conceptualised by the 3rd King to ward off negative energies. After His Majesty’s demise, the stupa was built in his memory by the 4th King and the then Queen Mother in 1972. Many old people come here early in the morning to circumambulate and say their prayers in the hopes of garnering enough good karma for their afterlife; they are joined by the middle and the younger generation in the evenings who also come to do either the same thing or to just relax their mind. The doors of this stupa remain mostly closed except on holy days. Inside, there are three stories and on each floor are statues of protective deities.
Changangkha Lhakhang: It is a 12th century temple sitting on top of a hill overlooking Thimphu valley with the main statue of Chenrizig (The Buddha of Compassion). This temple is often mistaken for a dzong by visitors because it looks like one, and apart from the temple it also houses a monastic school. Most of the couples go to this temple soon after birth to get blessings for their child.
Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 4: Thimphu – Punakha
Post breakfast, drive toward Punakha, stop at Dochula Pass (3,100 m), where on a sunny day, you can get stunning views of the Himalayan ranges. The Dochu La Pass is probably the best known mountain pass in Bhutan. Located at an altitude of 3150 meter above sea level, the Dochu La Pass is about 30 kilometer away from the capital city Thimphu and the road to Punakha. On a clear day the pass offers visitors a spectacular view of the majestic eastern Himalayan Ranges. A cup of hot coffee or tea at the pass has almost become part of tradition for people travelling to and fro from Punakha to the capital city.
There is a small cafeteria at the pass that offers a chance for travelers to enjoy a hot beverage or a snack, it is located just off the road and overlooks the pass and is an ideal place to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. Another striking feature at the pass are the 108 Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens, that were built for the well-being of all sentiment beings on earth. The 108 Chorten were built as a tribute to the Kings of Bhutan for their selfless service and leadership they offer to the people of Bhutan. These Stupas or Chortens also represent the peoples love, appreciation and loyalty towards the country’s King.
Continue drive towards Punakha and stop at Lobesa village and have lunch before going for a short hike to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility), it is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley (Divine Mad Man) and is the place from where Phallusesoriginated as the symbol of fertility and protection and can be seen everywhere in Bhutan, on house walls and roofs and altars. Childless couples usually go to this temple to get blessings so that they conceive and are blessed with a child.
(NOTE: The temple and has some sexual depictions. You may want to reconsider visiting this place if you are not comfortable with children seeing these)
Then drive to Punakha Dzong: The Punakha Dzong or the Pungtang Dechen Phortang Dzong is located at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and the Po Chhu River, combine to form the Puna Tsang Chu which in turn is a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra River. The Dzong was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1638 on the exact spot as prophesized by the Guru Rinpoche some 800 years ago. According to the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche “a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant”. Another legend associated with the Dzong is that of Zowe Palep, the architect of the Dzong received vision of the Dzong in his sleep. This vision got imprinted in the architects mind and enabled him to construct the Dzong without putting his plans to paper.
It is the second largest and the second oldest Dzong in Bhutan. The Dzong is home to some of the most sacred relics of the Drukpa Kagyu School of Buddhism; it is also home to the sacred mortal remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa the great treasure discoverer of Bhutan. The Dzong has also served as the capital Bhutan till 1955 before the capital was moved to Thimphu. The Dzong is still the winter residence of the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) and the central monastic body and plays host to the annual Punakha Tshechu Festival which is very popular with the locals and tourists alike.
Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 5: Punakha – Haa
After breakfast, drive back up to Dochula and then to Thimphu where you can have early lunch before continuing drive to Haa, believed to be a hidden valley and a place of refuge during judgement day. It’s a quaint town and the drive is beautiful with not much traffic. The Indian Army’s Head Quarters in also based in Haa, the division in Bhutan is known as IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team)
Overnight at a hotel in Haa
Day 6: Haa – Paro
Post breakfast visit Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) and the Indian military’s HQ. After that, dive towards Haa. You will cross the highest pass Chelela pass at 3850m is between Haa and Paro and is the highest motorable road in Bhutan.
Once in Paro, visit the Ta Dzong (National Museum): The name Ta Dzong translates to ‘watch tower’ and it served the function of watch tower for the Paro Rinpung Dzong. Back in the day, similar look-out points were built for other dzongs (fortresses) to counter any approaching hostilities, for those were the days of frequent strife. These towers were specifically built high atop hills and other vantage points during the old days.
Presently serving as the national museum (since late 60’s), it houses an array of antiquities such as ancient thangka (exquisite scroll painting), mural paintings and other forms of art done by great personalities of those days, original textiles of the kingdom which represent the culture that still flourishes, weapons & armour used back in the day, household objects typical to the Bhutanese people’s way of life back then and even now, and other natural and historical artifacts.
Paro Rinpung Dzong: (‘fortress of a heap of jewels’). It was built in the mid 17th century to protect and to gain control over the region, many invasions were averted from this dzong. It now serves as seat of the Paro district administration and residence for the monastic school.
Overnight at a Hotel in Paro
Day 7: Paro, Tiger’s Nest hike
Have early breakfast and drive up to the base of Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). The most famous and sacred site among all the places in Bhutan. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have come riding on a flying tigress to this place and meditated in a cave for 3 months, it wasn’t until Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came to this place and meditated that it gained the popularity that it has now. The present structure is said to be built in the 15th century but was destroyed by fire in 1998 and has been restored.
The walk is about 2 hours till the top through wide pathways which was built during the restoration works. One hour into the climb there is a tea point from where you get a very good view of the monastery, they also serve lunch here. From there it’s about another 45 minutes climb to the 2nd view point and the highest point in the hike.
After coming down, you can visit Drugyal Dzong Ruins: Literally means ‘Bhutan’s victory fortress’, it was built to in 1654 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders and it would also control and guard the trade between Bhutan and Tibet as it stood right on the trade trail. It stands atop a small hill with a commanding view of the valley up and below and on a clear one can get to see the beautiful Mount Jomolhari from here. It caught fire in 1951 and has been in ruins since, some renovation works have been carried out but has not been able to go full swing. Although in ruins, the dzong is still beautiful to look at and one can just walk about inside the ruins trying to imagine how things were before.
Overnight at a hotel in Paro
Day 8: Paro – Phuentsholing
Post breakfast, take a stroll around Paro town and shop for some souvenirs. After that, drive to Phuentsholing
Overnight at a hotel in Phuentsholing
Day 9: Phuentsholing – Bagdogra
Post breakfast, check-out of your hotel and drive to Bagdogra to catch your flight back home.